A Tribute to Dusty, a Favorite Cat

copyright © 2005 by Mike Colclough, all rights reserved.

June 10, 2005

If a picture is worth a thousand words, and a pet can teach us valuable things, then a photo of a pet can be a gold mine of wisdom.

Tonight I looked at one of the first frame worthy photos I ever took. It was from summer of 1992, just after my high school prom. The subject was Dusty, a fluffy gray kitten with wide eyes of wonder exploring tall grass.

While looking at the photo, I recalled the cold nights he slept on my bed, and I was glad for the added warmth he offered. I recalled how he'd been partially raised by a golden retriever, and the resulting crazy and doglike things he did. Many times, he presented himself so much like a person that we wondered if he could understand our words.

I also remembered the times following my college graduation when I was too busy with work to return the phone messages of friends, and didn't have time to respond Dusty's needs or affection, either. When those times became too frequent for my liking I decided to make more time for friends and family, starting (practicing?) with the cat.

Occasionally I forced myself to take a breather from whatever I was doing and just lie down on the floor to pet him. I'd heard somewhere that petting a cat or dog reduces blood pressure and releases anti-stress hormones. Those time-outs took away some of my stress. It reminded me that I should make the same kind of time for the people in my life.

The photo of Dusty reminds me how quickly those people can all be gone--how fast life goes by. Since the day I took it, many of those I'd seen at the prom have gone to far-off places to become parents, yet the prom seems like it was yesterday. When I visit home I see most of the neighbors we grew up with have all retired and moved away, or else passed away.

Two days ago, so did Dusty. He'd been sick a few times since September, but always recovered with the vet's help. Finally, he got sick so quickly that he left home to look for a place to die. Mom and Dad searched the neighborhood and found him. He had already passed on. It was hard to know that he had been alone, because we cared.

He had been affectionate towards us, too. At other times we'd seen his expression of disgust, and put words in his mouth like, "stupid human." He would sit with his back to us when our behavior was disagreeable to him. It made me imagine God as a cat: Seeing the things I do, turning the other way and muttering, "Stupid human," but always returning affectionately.

Dusty made me consider how we let loved ones pass away alone. How we let friendships fade. How we let those around us go hungry. We say it's because we're busy, but often we're just caught up in our own lives--caught up in ourselves.

We're not supposed to be that way. We're meant to be like the wide-eyed kitten, fascinated with the tall grass, a child in wonder of all that surrounds us, a friend to everyone because we haven't yet heard the world tell us to do anything else.

But we can always stop listening to the world. We can live instead. Dusty had lived with such vigor that he'd chased a fisher--a predator to him--up a tree a month before he died. The vet had said she never expected to see him alive again after he first got sick in September.

Without remembering that photo I'd taken, Mom and Dad buried Dusty in the same location where I'd shot it. Dad wrote him an epitaph: "Home is the hunter, home from the kill. He rests eternally beneath the hill." The wide-eyed kitten had come full-circle. So will the rest of us.

I'm thankful for all that I learned through Dusty. This morning I awoke to a dream that he was healthier than I'd ever seen him, the size of a mountain lion, and resting contentedly on the highest part of the couch he'd always used as a bed. It was as though he was reminding me of the resolutions he'd helped me begin.


Copyright © 2005 by Mike Colclough, all rights reserved.